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Experts: Terrorists turn their hatred toward media as way to spread fear

| Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, 11:55 p.m.

More reporters have been killed on the job during the past three years than at any time since the Committee to Protect Journalists started tracking the deaths in 1992, according to the nonprofit's records.

The attack Wednesday on a French satire magazine in Paris was the worst incident involving journalists since 2009, when gunmen killed 30 reporters and two media workers in the Philippines.

“These are very difficult times for journalists, and it's a lot harder to assess risk factors,” said Andy Alexander, a visiting professor at Ohio University's journalism school who serves on the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The digital age has changed everything.”

The incident — like the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were kidnapped in Syria last year — seems to represent a new phenomenon, media experts said. Terror groups are targeting journalists in public and brazen ways to send a message.

It's an unprecedented attack on intellectual freedom, said Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University.

“We used to worry about journalists in war zones who faced the possibility of becoming collateral damage, unintended victims of combat,” Ceppos said. “But journalists today have become deliberate, intentional targets, whether they are beheaded while a video camera is running or are the victims of rifle-bearing zealots.”

At least 61 journalists were killed because of their work in 2014, including 17 in Syria's civil war, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York.

That was down from more than 70 confirmed deaths each of the previous two years, the nonprofit says. In all, 1,106 journalists have been killed since 1992, and Iraq has been the deadliest place.

Not all deaths occur in war zones. Brazilian blogger and lawyer Marcos de Barros Leopoldo Guerra died in his home Dec. 23 when someone fired bullets through his kitchen window. He had recently posted a story questioning local officials' use of public money.

Five reporters have been murdered in the United States since 1992. Most recently, Chauncey Bailey, the editor-in-chief of the Oakland Post in Oakland, Calif., was killed on his way to work in 2007 because of his coverage of a Muslim bakery.

“We've really seen an increase all over the world in physical attacks, assassinations, killings of journalists,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at Columbia University in New York. “This is a global trend.”

Because terrorists, drug dealers, corrupt politicians and others can send their own messages over the Internet and via social media, they no longer rely on reporters to tell their stories, Shapiro said. Instead, they use journalists to raise ransom money or spread terror, he said.

Even in the face of threats and intimidation, reporters must continue to tell important stories and reveal injustice, said Justin Merriman, a Tribune-Review photojournalist who has worked amid conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“You have to tell the stories that need to be told, and you can't let fear or intimidation stop you from doing that,” he said. “Otherwise, these situations that are awful and despicable will continue to get worse, and there won't be any change to make things better.”

Journalists who place themselves in harm's way deserve respect, said Nicholas Lemann, dean emeritus at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

“Journalists who are not in danger should have a lot of respect for journalists who are in danger,” Lehman said, “and not try to pretend we're all in danger to the same extent.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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